Teasing is essential to detect when a broodmare is in estrus, but it's no easy feat due to the size and power of the animals involved. Safety should be top priority--to avoid injury to horses and people.

Teasing is particularly useful on farms with more than a dozen mares, according to Ahmed Tibary, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, professor of theriogenology in the department of veterinary clinical sciences at Washington State University.

"You are then looking at two options," he says. "During breeding season you'd have the vet come every other day to scan mares, or use a teasing stallion to reduce the number of veterinary examinations."

If the farm is using artificial insemination, Tibary suggests it might be better to have a veterinarian evaluate the mare's cycle by using ultrasonography rather than rely on a teaser. Teasing stimulates the mare in readiness for breeding due to release of oxytocin (a hormone that stimulates milk let-down and causes uterine contractions) in her body, but this also can be accomplished by hormonal treatment, he says.

"Some people tease with a gelding," says Tibary. "Although this works, not all geldings are good teasers, and not all mares will show to a gelding. In most situations you need a stallion for this job. In operations with minimal personnel, it is easier to use a small horse or pony stallion for teasing--one that's docile and easy to handle."

Some farms use their breeding stallion for teasing, but for the stallion's safety Tibary does not recommend this practice. "You don't want to risk having him hurt (if the mare becomes aggressive)," he says.

Proper Equipment

Safety starts with the facility used for teasing. "The most common mistake people make is deciding to start teasing mares with an inadequate setup," notes Tibary.

Proper equipment and facility design are important. "You need one setup, such as a teasing rail, for mares that have no foal at side. Mares with foals at side are best teased in a box stall, having the foal with them," Tibary says. The stallion is then brought to the mare, teasing her from outside the stall.

"I like a traditional teasing rail that's high enough the stallion won't try to jump over it," says Tibary. "The rail should come to the height of the mare's croup (the area that extends from the loins to the tailhead). This allows the stallion's head to be above it so he can smell and tease the mare, but (the wall or rail is) still high enough he wouldn't try to get over it." Rail height requirements depend on breed, and all rails should be solid and padded so they won't damage feet and legs. Don't tease mares employing a fence that's not solid or secure. No matter how gentle the stallion is, a mare could injure herself if she strikes at him through a gate or a wire or board fence.

Some large operations use a teasing chute, running mares down the chute and walking the stallion along the outside. This works well when checking many mares to determine if they are ready, such as when screening recipient mares for embryo transfer.

Bill Tracy, farm manager at JEH Stallion Station in Hondo, N.M., teases dozens of Quarter Horse mares daily during breeding season, generally by walking the teaser stallion down a long aisleway in a barn.

Equipment for handling the teaser includes a strong halter and a long shank with a good quality chain. "Depending on the individual, the chain should be over the nose, or possibly in the mouth--whatever works best for that horse. Some need a little more control," says Tracy.

Safe Handling

Safety measures when handling a teaser are similar to the precautions used for handling a breeding stallion. "The difference is that a teasing stallion must be selected primarily on temperament--a gentle stallion that still has very good libido," says Tibary. "For the handler, I recommend having good control of the stallion and wearing protective gear (such as helmet and gloves)." The handler should also be an experienced horseperson.

Tracy notes that good teasing is a team effort; one person should lead the stallion and another should observe and record mares' reactions and behavior. This is also important for safety reasons. "If you are leading the stallion down the alley it's hard to watch the mares at the same time. When you get two or three stalls past a mare, that's when she's liable to show," says Tracy. "You may miss seeing this if you're handling the stallion. And if you're not paying enough attention to him, trying to watch the mares, that's when you may get (hurt)."

To lead the stallion safely, Tracy recommends walking alongside the horse behind his head, but slightly ahead of his shoulder. "You have to be out in front a bit so that if he suddenly turns toward the mares he won't run into you," he says. "Horses react quickly, and if you're in the way you'll be in trouble. If a mare behind you starts showing, he may come instantly back over the top of you. I try to move forward with him all the time, but (stay) where I can readily see him. If he starts to dive forward you can get out of the way, yet at the same time be able to control him or go back with him if he suddenly hits reverse."

When bringing the mare to the stallion, "you must let her see and hear the stallion first, before you try to tease her," says Tibary. "If you don't allow her enough time, her reaction (signifying whether she's in heat) will be more violent."

Some handlers lead the stallion along the pasture fence where mares or mares and foals are turned out to observe their reactions. Some "shy" mares might not approach the stallion, but might show signs of interest as they see other mares interacting with him. For this method, you need a safe fenceline (in case a mare becomes aggressive as the stallion is led past) and a well-mannered, easily controlled stallion.

Another method involves putting the teaser stallion in a safe enclosure near the mares' pasture for a while each day, observing mares' reactions to him and using a scoring system to record their behavior and any changes in behavior from day to day. "Many mares start showing heat when they watch the stallion and hear his vocalization," says Tibary. Teasing methods that try to mimic nature (allowing the stallion time to court a mare) with the least human intervention can often be the most effective, as well as safest for the animals and people involved.

Take-Home Message

Safety when teasing depends on the surroundings, the teasing method used, the stallion, and the handler. "Selection of the environment and teasing method may depend on how big the ranch is, availability of personnel, whether someone will be holding the mare, or if you are trying to tease a group of mares all at the same time," says Tibary.

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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